NOWENA, COMANCHE INDIAN GIRL
It was surely my good luck to grow up both native American and white, as I was at home in both cultures.
Many happy memories are embellished in childhood. The cares and troubles of adults are totally alien to us. When we are children, our play is what we live for. We play alone, we play with our friends, we play that we are in danger, we play that we can be anyone we want to be. We do little to prepare ourselves for being a grown-up. We enjoy being children, as, too soon, we will be adults. We are always in a big hurry to grow up, not realizing we can never return to our childhood days. Now that I am old and bedridden, I can still recall the days of my child- hood, but I can never go back.
I remember the first white people I ever saw, as clearly as if it happened yesterday. The white man brought his woman and little blonde-headed girl to live in a cabin near the Guadalupe Creek. They built the cabin with help from other white people, but only those three people lived there; the others were friends and neighbors who all lived several days away. The small cabin was just a few feet from the creek, which meant, when it rained, the white people would have "running water indoors". They also were on the lower side of the bank, not the upper. It was plain they did not know the ways of the outdoor life. To hunt, the man had to leave the cabin, and go out on horseback or foot. The woman could not bring the cabin with her to follow him; so, at the end of the hunt, the man had to return to the cabin. One advantage was that the man always knew where the cabin was, and didn't have to search for it.
We were wary of stealing any of their horses (they only had two), as we did not wish to have the soldiers chase us and fight with us. We were not at peace with the white people, but we cared not to live so close to their towns and villages. If we came into contact with each other, there could be problems, so we kept at a distance. Now, with this cabin in one of our favorite areas, the men were undecided as to whether to attack them, or should we move even farther into the hills. It was finally decided to leave them alone, as long as they stayed away from our hunting areas.
Their little girl was about my own age, which was seven years old. I had often watched her from bushes or from behind a tree, as, truly, the yellow hair was a sight I had never seen before. My people told me that, as the white buffalo was to be honored, then, also, the yellow-haired girl must be special, and was not to be harmed.
I walked over to their cabin one morning, to see what the white people were going to do today: would the white man hunt, or would he dig in the ground? What would the little girl do? Would she like to play with me, or go chase rabbits with me? I wanted to make friends with her, and see what she did for play. Never did the girl help with dressing the kills or digging in the ground with her father. She did gather berries sometimes, or get water from the creek. Very little time was she outside; that was probably why her skin was so white - it had not known the sun.
I walked up quietly, to a clump of trees on the high bank. I could not see the entrance but could see the other three sides of the cabin. The man came outside and took one of the horses to the field, where he liked to dig in the ground. What he was digging for, I did not know, nor why he hadn't yet found whatever he was looking for.
Shortly, the little girl came out with a wooden bucket. She walked to the creek, jumped and waded across, and went into the berry patch. I could see the bushes being pulled on, and knew that she was picking berries. Maybe she would like me to help her, or show her where there were more patches, even wild plums! I went over the backside of the hill to a smaller patch of berries and picked a few, intending to give them to the girl. Then, I went a little way back towards my village to where I knew some wild plums grew. I found several ripe ones and picked them for the little friend-to-be. I gathered my harvest in my hands and walked back towards the creek.
When I arrived back, the girl was still in a berry patch. I walked down the hill to where I could see and hear her picking the berries. Slowly, I came up behind her, approaching her closer and closer. Her hair was yellow and her skin white and clean. Her clothes were in bright colors of blue and white, but did not appear to be durable enough to last long in the woods. Although her shoes were leather, they appeared to hold her feet prisoner, as she was tied into them. I was just a few feet from her, quietly watching her gather food; she had not seen me. What would I say to her? Would she understand me? Did she speak my language, or even Spanish? Finally, she stopped to look in her bucket; I chose that moment to speak to her: "I brought some berries and plums for you" and held them out. She looked up, startled, and her eyes grew wide. She sucked in a breath, and said something. I advanced towards her and put the berries and plums in her basket. She stood looking at me, then slowly began to back off. Then she turned and began walking swiftly away. I walked just as swiftly to catch up with her. "My name is Nowena." She looked at me, then began running towards the cabin. I ran alongside her, and said "Don't run away. You are pretty." As she reached the cabin, she screamed something in her language, apparently to someone inside. I was still beside her, trying to talk to her. She ran up to the door, and pushed it open; then stopped and looked at me. Standing just outside, I said, "Don't be afraid." Then, the door was yanked wide open and a white woman, her mother, stood there, protectively, brandishing a knife. The mother said something to me which I did not understand. I replied back to her: "Do you wish to hurt me? I bring food and you want to hurt me?" The woman yelled for her husband, that much I could tell.
I stood quietly in front of the door. These white people were strange, they did not welcome visitors into their cabin. I knew they were afraid of me; me, a little seven year old Comanche girl; I didn't even carry a weapon, except a small knife I used sometimes to cut things. The white woman's knife was much, much bigger.
I turned and saw the white man running towards us, with his rifle. He had a ferocious look on his face and was yelling something back at the woman. She closed the door after pulling the little girl inside. I stood alone as the man got closer. If he was going to shoot me, he couldn't miss at this short distance. He ran up to me, grunting, and motioning for me to leave. He pointed the rifle at me, and I looked at the black hole, just a few feet from my chest, which could spew forth fire and death. In wide-eyed innocence, I looked up and said to him, "I brought some berries for you. The girl has them," and I pointed at the door. Slowly, he lowered the rifle, supposing I was not a threat to them. He said something to the people inside, and the woman and girl opened the door, and looked out at me. I smiled at the little girl, and again told her my name, and pointed at my chest. Then I pointed at her. She just looked at me. I let out a laugh, and smiled at the man, and said, "What is her name? Is she your daughter?" The man stood looking at me, blinking in wonderment. The woman brought out the bucket of berries, looked in it, and handed it to me. Now I understood: they thought I wanted my berries. I laughed again, and walked over to the door, took the bucket, looked in it, and smiled and handed it back to the woman, indicating that it was theirs to keep. They just stood there, watching me, not trusting me.
That was a good time to leave; nothing further could be accomplished by trying to make them understand the berries were for them. So, I told them "Maybe, I can come see you again" and walked away. I turned and waved with the three still watching me. I skipped over to the creek, now out of their sight. If I ran, this would alarm them. Oh, these white people were so spooky, afraid of their shadows.
A few days later, I decided to walk over to the white people's cabin. Their ways were an amusement to me. I was not afraid of them; we had never heard of the white people grabbing Comanche children and keeping them; shooting them, perhaps, but not trying to raise them as whites.
I hadn't yet made a friend of the little girl, and I was determined to learn more about her: what did she do inside the cabin? what did she do for play? could she ride a horse? The man was digging in the ground again, still hadn't found what he was looking for. I walked towards him, making sure he saw me before I got too close. He was dropping seeds into the ground, then stepping on the dirt. When he saw me, he stopped walking; he tensed for a moment, then relaxed. I walked up to him and greeted him. He only stood, looking at me; he said something, but, of course, I couldn't understand him.
"Can the little girl come out and play? I want to show her my favorite place to watch the fish in the river," I said to him. Well, I couldn't understand him, and he couldn't understand me; so, I felt the only effective way to communicate was to go ahead and do what I wanted, that is, go to the cabin and ask the little girl to come out. He stood watching me as I turned and walked towards the cabin.
As I approached, the woman opened the door, stepped outside, and stood, waiting for me, apparently. I greeted her with a big smile, and asked where the girl was. The white woman said "Shoo, shoo" and waved her hands at me, which I understood. She wanted me to leave, like I was a fly or something. I laughed at the foolishness of it all. Then, she laughed. Ah, at last, we were beginning to communicate. I walked up to her and took her hand and placed it on my head. She was reluctant, but didn't remove it. This was a sign that I accepted her, and, whether she knew it or not, she accepted me.
I stepped away from her, and asked again where her daughter was. About that time, the little girl peeked out from behind the door. I greeted her, and again, reminded her, by pointing to myself, that my name is Nowena. I repeated it. Then I pointed at her. She stepped outside, and said something to her mother. Then she pointed at herself and said "Sawlee". When I pronounced her name, she smiled. Then she said my name, or close to it, at least: "Nowuheemuh". I slowly said my name twice more. She was getting it pretty close. When I laughed and jumped slightly, she burst into a smile. She was getting the hang of it now.
The three of us stood there awkwardly, looking at one another. I asked her if she liked to chase rabbits, indicating with my hands, the jumping of a bunny. She didn't understand. I walked a few steps away, and motioned for her to come with me. She refused, and again her mother "shooed" me away.
Then I came up with an idea. I told the two that I would go and get them some rabbits. I turned and trotted towards the creek. I knew exactly where to find rabbits, as that was one thing I was good at. The men would hunt buffalo and antelope and deer, and Nowena and the women would hunt rabbits.
It took a few minutes until I came to a rabbit hole. I walked around a little until I saw a cottontail bound away from me. I had a stick and hit him on the head, stunning him. Then I grabbed his legs and hit his head on a tree trunk. Shortly, I found another one, and did likewise with him.
Returning to the cabin, I began to sing as I got close. I did not want to alarm the whites; they might shoot at me. I walked to the door, and said "Sawlee" several times. The door opened, and the woman stood eyeing me. I held out the two rabbits for her. She blinked a few times, and said something to the little girl, who peeked out at me from behind her mother's dress. The woman took the rabbits inside. I stepped towards the door, and the girl closed it in my face. Still, it was not allright for me to enter. Oh, well, at least they weren't shooting at me.
The woman came out with a knife, and the little girl carried the rabbits. They motioned for me to come with them. There was a small square piece of wood in the front, near the door. The woman picked it up and began to make herself comfortable. She sat against the cabin, and took one of the rabbits from her daughter. She placed it on the wood, and began to gut it. The little girl made an unhappy face; she was bothered by the gutting. It was part of life and, it was food; no point in being squeamish. The woman was fairly good at dressing the rabbits. Although she cut off parts that I would eat, and threw them away, pretty much she prepared them like my people would have. She took the other one from Sawlee and began preparing it also. She said something to her daughter, who went inside. I stood observing this all, and the woman looked at me once or twice and smiled at me. The little girl brought out a metal bowl with corn meal. The woman placed the rabbit meat in the meal and rolled them around until they were covered. She again said something to the little girl, who took the bowl with the meat, and went back inside.
I realized this was really not enough rabbit for the three people. I told the woman that I was going to go and get more. If I could have the bucket, I could carry more back to them. She didn't understand, so I went into the cabin, to look for the bucket. The girl was stoking the fire and looked alarmed when she saw me walk in. The woman ran in behind me. I saw the wooden bucket and picked it up. The woman was telling me something which probably meant for me to leave. I innocently looked up at her, and pointed to the bucket and then outside. I went outside with the woman following me; maybe she would like to go with me. I asked her, but, of course, she didn't understand. I then turned and ran to where I was before.
In less than an hour, I was back at the cabin with five rabbits in the bucket. It was a bit heavy to carry, but I was already used to hard work. I called for Sawlee, and the woman came out. I proudly showed her the kills. She gave me a big smile, and took the bucket. The man was inside, and said something to her as he stepped outside to look at the food. They talked, then the woman went over to the piece of wood and sat down. The man brought her the knife and she started to prepare them. This time, I interrupted her and gently took the knife from her. I showed her my peoples' way of preparing rabbit; not much different, but I was considerably faster. In a very short time, all the rabbits were cleaned and ready for cooking and were taken into the kitchen by the woman. I followed her, and, this time, neither the man nor the woman made an attempt to discourage me from entering.
Sawlee was cooking the meat I had brought earlier, in a fry pan over the fire. I walked over to her, and sat beside her, watching the meat sizzle in the pan. The woman said something to her husband about me, but I didn't know what it was; they smiled at me as they talked.
When all the meat was finished cooking, the woman put some plates and other items on the table. They all sat down, and motioned for me to sit also. I climbed up in a chair and sat and watched to see what they would do. They bowed their heads as the man talked to someone. Then they passed the food around. We had bread, rabbit, sweet jam, and some grass or something that looked liked grass. They used knives and forks to eat with. As I was not yet acquainted with their use, I ate with my hands. The rabbit was tasty, especially so because I had helped in its preparation. The food was all eaten, and we sat there with contented looks on our faces. The white people weren't so different from us; they ate similar food, at least. Their clothing was unlike ours, and they had so much in their cabin that they could not carry it all if they had to move somewhere.
Sawlee left the table, and went over to get something. She brought it to me; it was a doll - the white man's version. I supposed that, since she didn't have any other children her own age to play with, this was her form of play. Oh, I had a doll, too, but found very little time to play with it. I would much rather be outside, in the woods, listening to the birds sing, or the crickets chirp, or riding my horse, Brown Collar. Besides, when the men came back from a hunt, we always had lots of work to do, dressing the kill, preparing food, and cleaning up.
While we were sitting there, Sawlee was showing me a few other things she had, a photo of some people, the first photo I had ever seen, some pretty blue and white checkered linen, and a pair of shiny black leather shoes. Then, we heard someone outside calling my name. It was Nowumkah, the older, mean woman from our village who knew all about dressing game. She was calling for me. I left the table, and opened the door. The man had grabbed his rifle and was behind me, peering out. Nowumkah told me that I was not to be living with the white people, and I had not brought meat to my people, but instead, had brought them to the white people. Nowumkah had a vicious tongue, and she used this occasion to remind me of it. I felt guilty that I had spent most of the day with the white people, and not gathering food like I was supposed to do.
I walked out to Nowumkah, and she pulled a small branch and swung it at me, hitting me on my back. "Hurry, run home, you little wretch, I'll give you bruises unless you outrun me." I ran off for the village, with her screeching at me, and chasing me. I didn't get a chance to look back at the white people, nor did I ever visit them again.
The next day, we were up before the stars had left the sky. The men wanted to go further north, away from the white people, and to hunt the buffalo. I never saw the little blonde girl again and never knew what might have been her fate in this world. Other things were fixing to happen, over which I had no control.
Sometimes, incidents happen that stand out, that we remember all throughout our lives, that changed us in a way more significant than one realizes at the time. Little did I foresee that I would one day become a spokesperson for my people because of the day I went to get the horses.
Seven soldiers blue, riding single file, crossing the hills, the creeks, seven men searching,....for trouble. Lt. Casey and six others were on an assignment. They knew Comanches were in the area. Their job was not to find them, but to act as a blocking force. The main body would move towards the encampment; Lt Casey's squad would occupy a wooded area to cut off and fight with any warriors fleeing the main fight.
By the time I was eight years old, I was an orphan. My mother had died when I was an infant; she had caught some type of disease, perhaps from the white man; well, they got the blame for it anyway. I don't even remember her; I was just too little. My father had been killed on a raid a few years afterwards, but I did remember him. My brother and I were taken in by an older chief, Peyawtuk, who wanted to make war on whites and Mexicans. I, however, did not know war and killing; I had actually never experienced it, .....yet.
My brother, Swift Hawk, was careless, and let the horses wander away from the watering hole near our village site. I was just 9 years old, but already was leaving play behind as I took on the role of a growing young Comanche maiden. I had left the tipi to go for a ride on Brown Collar, my favorite mare. When I walked over to the trees, I knew something was wrong: Swift Hawk was not around, and, in addition, I did not see but two horses; there should have been eight of them.
Brown Collar was still there. I mounted her and set out to find the other horses. I would ride to the next hill and see if I could spot them anywhere. I did not see Swift Hawk. Perhaps the horses had wandered over towards Verde Creek. There was a thick patch of willows and oak, and a horse could not be seen until one was right in the midst of the grove.
I saw some tracks leading in that direction, but didn't know how many horses were in the party. Tracking was for the boys; the girls were not hunters and did not develop these skills. We spent most of our time preparing food, caring for the animals, and moving from one site to another.
Trotting down the hill that was next to Verde Creek, I saw some horses in the trees. I was watching Brown Collar's footing as the ground was uneven. I didn't want to ride her across the creek, so I looked for a place to tie her up. There was a small tree on this side, and I made use of it to secure my horse to it. Admittedly, I had let caution slip a bit, and was not completely on my guard. The boys were trained well at this, but I was only a nine year old girl, and did not have the skills honed to a fine degree to be watchful.
I approached the bank of the creek on foot, and looked for a place to wade across or jump. This time of year, the creek was not swift and deep; that came in springtime, not the summer. I stepped cautiously onto a small sand bar, then ran and jumped onto the bank on the other side. That was easily done, as the banks weren't steep on either side.
Now, where were those horses? I saw some movement ahead and decided to approach them at a slow pace, wishing not to spook them. They might feel playful, or they might run away, and I wasn't going to be able to round them up without help if they wouldn't let me near them. I was watching the ground when I stepped over some broken tree branches and muddy spots, being cautious only to avoid tripping, and not watching the trees around me.
Suddenly, I saw movement to my side. My brain told me this was a bear attacking! I carried a small knife, pulled it out and slashed at the bear, in a futile movement to slow the creature's attack, believing I was going to die, here, in this place, so young, on a bright summer day. I yelled out as my knife cut the animal's arm and it yelled! But it was not a bear; it was a man, a soldier, who had lunged at me. We both were surprised: I was grateful this was not a bear after all, and I might live to see another sunset; the soldier was bleeding from a cut on his forearm inflicted by myself. There were several other soldiers there, and they were pointing their firearms at me. One soldier had his pistol almost in my face. They were screaming to one another, and to me, but I didn't understand their words. I could only see the large barrel of an Army pistol pointing in my face. Was he going to shoot me? Then I knew he would not, or he would have already done so. The wounded soldier was angry because I had cut him; well, he shouldn't have grabbed for me.
We stood facing one another, no one moving further; only the soldiers talking loudly to each other. I withdrew my knife, and put it away. Two soldiers lowered their rifles, but the pistolero kept his weapon aimed at my head. The soldier who was cut had rolled up his sleeve and was examining the wound; it was not so bad that he was going to need help. If I had inflicted such a shallow wound on a bear, it would only have made it angrier and I might have been killed even quicker than would otherwise have happened.
I did not speak the white man's language; I could only tell that they appeared puzzled as to what to do to me. Perhaps they wanted to shoot me; but the report of a firearm would warn the village that enemy were close by.
There were seven of them, with their horses. They had just recently arrived at the creek, because their horses were still breathing heavily. As I stood there, it dawned on me that these were an advance team from a larger party of soldiers, perhaps somewhere over the hills close by. They were planning an attack on my people! I would have yelled a warning, but the village was not close. Could I escape and get to Brown Collar, then make it back? I bolted from the grove, running for the creek. The soldiers chased after me, closing quickly. When I came to the creek, I leaped across, or, that is, part way across. I landed in water up to my ankles, but the rocky bed twisted my foot, and I went down on my hands. Two soldiers lept after me; their impact was not so hurtful to them. They both landed on their feet, and did not appear to have injured themselves. They grabbed me, stood me up, and pinned my arms to my sides. One of them removed my knife and kept it for a trophy.
I was angry more than scared. I had fallen into the hands of the enemy, not given a warning, and was now a prisoner. Due to my painful ankle, I could not walk. Without a knife, I could not fight. I could bite and scratch, and tried to attack the soldier nearest me. He was tall and powerful, and carried me back to the wooded area keeping me facing away from him.
The melee in the creek bed had spooked Brown Collar, but she was securely tied to the tree branch and could not make her escape.
The soldiers were talking among themselves, probably trying to decide whether to kill me or take me prisoner. They finally did neither; they tied my hands behind me, and sat me down. Then, they mounted up, pulled their rifles out, crossed the creek, stopping to untie Brown Collar, and proceeded towards the village. They were probably not the main party, because soldiers always attacked in larger numbers. To be in such small numbers and attacking my people, which had many more warriors ready to fight at a moment's notice, would be a foolish act indeed.
In a few minutes, I heard gunfire, from several directions. These soldiers were part of a larger group, and they were all close by. Perhaps they might even outnumber our men. How had the soldiers gotten so close without being seen? The hills had hidden them as they stealthily approached.
What had happened to Swift Hawk? Later, I found out that he had taken the horses to water further down the creek and had not seen the soldiers or me. He was supposed to watch this part of the creek, but had failed to do so. When the attack began, he rode quickly back to the village to take part in the fighting, taking a route where he never saw Brown Collar, so did not know where I was.
I struggled to untie myself, but could not do it. I couldn't even walk. Yelling for help, only the birds and grass- hoppers heard me. I felt foolish and ashamed; had I been more vigilant, I could have given the alarm.
The fighting went on for some time, as I could hear rifle shots from the direction of the village. I was able to sit, but could not stand, except on one leg; so, I sat, waiting and hoping that someone would find me. Then, I considered rolling myself into the creek, and getting the leather strips wet that had my hands secured. When wet, they would stretch, and I could get out of them. Still with only one good leg, there was not much I could do.
The sound of fighting died away. Were my people all dead? I truly worried that blood had been shed by those I knew and loved. We had been forced to fight many times before I was born. Always, there were more soldiers; so many, that we knew we could not even count the numbers of them. What hope did we have? Only to hold on to a little part of our ways, our traditions, our land, before we lost it all to the white people. There were just too many of them.
About an hour after this, the soldiers returned. I recognized the one I had slashed on the arm, as he had a white cloth tied around his injury. They had returned, for me! Were they going to take me prisoner, or kill me, or let me go? They dismounted and surrounded me. One of the big ones picked me up and put me on his horse, then he mounted behind me. The party set out in a direction easterly, away from the village. As for many of my people, I never saw them again. Were they killed in the fight, or fled to parts far away, to this day, I do not know.
In a short time, we rendezvoused with a large body of soldiers. They had many prisoners with them from the village, mostly old women and children. The ones able to fight, did so, and probably died, that day, in the heat and dirt of battle. There were a total of 45 of us guarded by about the same number of soldiers.
My hands were freed, but I was kept close to the soldiers that I had encountered first. Were they somewhat attached to me, or fearful that I might strike out at them, I didn't know? My ankle was very swollen and painful; I couldn't walk anyway, so I was dependent on them to carry me around.
We were moved for several days in a northerly direction, passing through country, but never towns. We crossed the Pedernales and the Llano rivers, coming up on the San Saba. Those of us that had food were small in number. I had none, other than what the soldiers fed me. Several of my people succumbed to injuries or illnesses. I tried to tell the soldiers that they were passing up many sites for food: berries, plums, squirrels; but they wanted to move us quickly to the east.
We encamped on the San Saba for three days. During this time, white people came from nearby towns and villages. They were looking us over, for the possibility of taking us home with them - but not to be a family member. No, something far worse would befall those selected to live with the whites. Those not chosen would be moved to a reservation, with never enough to eat. What choice did we have? The choice was with the white people. The soldiers did not care if they wandered among us, picking out the ones they wanted; the old, sickly, dying, and children were about all there was as prisoners. Some of the people would never make it to the reservation; better to be taken here, but only children were selected.
Children were the most desirable for "adoption", either infants, or young ones about my age. Any older ones were considered hopeless savages that would never adjust to life inside. One man kept looking at me, like he wanted to grab me. He was tall and thin, balding, and a hook nose. He wore suspenders, and had a little girl and boy with him. He looked at some more children before he came back to me. I had spent most of this time by the soldier's campfire, as I was still unable to walk very well.
Mr Hook-nose walked up to me and pointed, and made motions for me to get in his buckboard. I looked at the soldiers, who appeared impassive. The fewer Indians they had to look after, the easier it was for them. Mr Hook-nose approached me and grabbed me by the shoulder of my dress, and pulled me away. One of the soldiers said something to him, about my swollen ankle. He stopped, bent down, looked at my leg, then disgustedly, pushed me away. I was not wanted! Good. His little boy, about my age, made a fist at me, and tried to hit me on the shoulder. I ducked, but he connected partially anyway, knocking me down. One of the soldiers jumped at the boy, and said for them, I suppose, to leave me alone; they turned and walked on.
Another white man, big, with a bushy beard, small eyes, and big boots, was watching me also. He came over, picked me up like I was a barnyard animal, and carried me to his buckboard. I was made to sit in the back, with some bags of feed. His dog was tied up in the back, with almost enough leash to get at me. The dog growled and snapped at me the rest of the trip.
It was hot and a rough ride in the buckboard. I was very thirsty, and asked the man for some water. He ignored me, until I asked him a second time; then, he reached over and slapped my face very hard. He appeared angry at my request, but he couldn't really have understood me. Well, his dog wasn't getting any water, either.
By evening, we arrived at a small cabin. We had passed some other cabins already, and there were some people living in the area - not too close, but not so far away either. A woman and young boy opened the door and greeted the man, who I will call "Bushy Beard". The boy was about 14, and as tall as his father, but not so filled out. He picked me up out of the back and sat me on the ground. My legs gave out, and I fell down. They stood looking at me. The woman said something to the man, who unleashed his dog and the two of them went inside. The boy picked me up by my clothing, in the back, and carried me like an animal carcass, inside.
He sat me down in a chair, where he could get a better look at me. He and the woman looked at my ankle, while Bushy Beard was eating at the table. It appeared that they were concerned about my ankle. Yes, they were; I needed to be able to walk in order to work.
Several days went by while my ankle healed. At first, I had to hobble around the kitchen, helping the woman with preparing food. She showed me ways the white people like to get ready to eat; rather involved, sometimes. I usually shelled peas, or dressed game, and cleaned up after a meal; never was I allowed to cook or to eat with the white people; I was given table scraps.
One time, Bushy Beard brought a deer home that he had shot in the woods. He tied it up outside, and began dressing it. I went to see what he was doing, pushed him away and gently took his knife; then I dressed the animal for them. He seemed pleased at my ability to do this. Before much longer, whenever he brought an animal home to eat, even if it were still alive, I was allowed to prepare it. He never was nice to me, however, and more than once, he hit me if I didn't understand what he wanted me to do. If he had hit my backside with a board, that was sort of the way my people did; but, when he hit me in the face, that was a most grievous insult, demeaning, and humiliating, and one thing I never accepted.
At night, I slept on the floor, and my leg was tied to a bedpost, in order that I couldn't escape. They never let me out of their sight for one moment.
Several weeks went by, and I learned to talk some English. The woman was pleasant to me, perhaps she wanted to have a little girl around. The boy paid me little attention, as he was gone a lot. Bushy Beard wanted me waiting on him hand and foot, so to speak. I obliged, as this was expected of me in my world also.
One day, in the kitchen, I was helping the woman prepare a pie. Bushy Beard was sitting in his chair, smoking. The woman gave me the pie to put on a tin sheet, and set it over the fire to cook. I was maneuvering it into place, when Bushy Beard pushed his chair back, scraping the floor, and startling me. I dropped the pie in the fire, and it turned sideways and ran out of the pan. I tried to grab it, but it was too late. The woman let out a groan, which caused Bushy Beard to look and see what had happened. He yelled, grabbed me, and tossed me across the room like I was a rag doll. Then he grabbed a fire iron and hit me several times, cursing me with the most vile language.
"Stop! Stop! I not want hurt pie," I yelled.
"You damn savage; you did that on purpose, making us waste food like that. Just for that, you don't eat." He hit me several times with his fist, once in the face, then he made me sit in the corner, staring away from them.
The woman was upset, too. Food was one thing not in excess for any of us; those were hard times. She called me "stupid" and told the man I wasn't much good for anything around the house, and for him to take me with him the next time he went hunting, because that was obviously something I could handle.
Bushy Beard told her that he was going to fix me real good come tomorrow, so that I couldn't even breathe without permission. What exactly this meant, I soon found out.
The next day, Bushy Beard put me in the buckboard and he and I went into town. I had never been to town before, nor seen so many white people coming and going. How they kept from running into each other, I don't know. There were many large cabins as well as small ones. Nobody paid us much mind as we went down the street; they all seemed in a hurry to get somewhere.
We came to a cabin where there were horses inside and out. Saddles could be seen sitting on a fence. The white man that lived here was standing over a fire, hitting a horseshoe with an odd looking axe. Now he was big, bigger than Bushy Beard, and smoking a big cigar. He looked up as we rolled to a stop. He and Bushy Beard spoke to each other.
Bushy Beard told him, "I need about 10 feet of small chain, like you hobble an animal with."
The big man's name must have been Smith, because that was what Bushy Beard referred to him as. Smith said, "Why don't you just get some hobbles, whole lot less trouble."
Bushy Beard answered, "No, I want chain; it's not for some stupid farm animal, it's for this animal" and he pointed to me.
"No!" I yelled, and jumped out of the buckboard, "you beat me, hit me, and starve me, but you not going to chain me. I not let you. I run away!" I ducked behind Smith, trying to hide behind this enormous giant.
Bushy Beard grabbed for me; "Come here, damn savage; I'll teach you to be impudent! I'll beat you until your brains come out your ears!"
Smith put up his hand, and held Bushy Beard off. "Don't touch this child. You don't hit anyone at my place of business."
Bushy Beard became even more hostile: "She's mine. Give her to me. I'll teach you and her both a lesson!"
Smith reacted by pulling up his sleeves and standing determinedly between Bushy Beard and me. "You're gonna do what, Barker? I'll grab your throat and choke you until Holy Jesus comes out of that filthy mouth of yours."
Bushy Beard blinked and backed off. More mildly, he said, "Give her back; she's my injun girl."
Smith stood there, and said nothing. Several seconds of silence passed. Then Smith looked at me, and I asked if I could have some water because I was very thirsty.
"Yes, child; just go over there and drink out of that bucket." Then Smith turned back to Bushy Beard, "Now, what were you saying?"
Bushy Beard took a deep breath and spoke: "She's mine; I went and got her. You better give her back to me."
Smith rebutted, "In case you've forgotten, there ain't no slavery no more. You don't own her any more'n you own some darkie workin' on yer farm. Just 'cause she's a indin, don't mean you can do what you want to her. Hell, man, look at her; she's terrified of you. Is that any way to treat another human being?"
"I don't care; she's an injun. I went and got her -"
"You mean 'stole her' probably. You ain't got no business going out and bringing a indin back like she was some wild animal that you is trying to domesticate. No, man, you ain't gettin' her back. I put chains on beasts, not humans."
Bushy Beard stood silently, breathing heavily. Then he spoke, "I'll get the marshal and he'll make you give her back."
With that, Bushy Beard turned and went looking for the marshal.
Smith walked over to me. "You speak English, pretty good, little one. How long have you been with the Barkers?"
"I don't know," I told him, "much long time. No eat anything yesterday ."
"Now don't you worry; everything is gonna be all right."
Smith had some bread he gave me, and I sat down in the stable and ate a little.
Shortly, Bushy Beard returned, with the marshal. The marshal asked Smith about me: "You got an injun girl that belongs to Barker? He said you took her and won't give her back?"
"Marshal, I didn't take anything of Barker's. He come to me, wanted me to put chains on the little girl, see, over there, she's just a little girl. He scared her, and she ran to me for protection. He's been 'busin her, hits her and starves her. Hell, he treats her worse than a dog; at least a dog gets to eat regular."
Marshal told Smith, "We don't make no judgements on what's right or wrong 'bout feedin' animals, Kennard. Just let him have the girl back. If he's been beatin' her, I'll look into it."
At that time, I came forward and spoke: "I not go back with Bushy Beard; he hit me in face with hand; hurt me. No feed me, no water; I want water, I drink with dog." Then I pointed to the side of my face where Bushy Beard had hit me and left a marked bruise.
The man called Marshal came close and looked at my injury. Then he turned to Bushy Beard, "You got no call to be hittin' a girl, Barker; I don't care if she is a injun, she's just a child. That ain't no way to treat anyone. And since she ain't yer kid, you ain't gittin' her back. I oughtta lock you up and toss the key, or jist beat you myself."
Bushy Beard showed fear in his face. "I, uh, I, didn't mean it; she was just being impudent. You gotta show those savages who's boss."
I yelled at him, "I no savage! I no beat white people; I make friends with white people, no beat, no starve."
Marshal turned to Bushy Beard and told him, "Barker, just leave town, and I don't want to hear your name anymore today. If I come out to your place, you better not be mistreatin' anyone, relative, redskin, or animal."
With that, Bushy Beard got on his buckboard and rode away. I never saw him again, and was glad of it.
Marshal turned to Smith and said, "Now what are we gonna do with the lil injin girl? You gonna take care of her or somethin', Ed?"
Smith answered, "Yeah, I'll take her home, I guess. She ain't got no other place to go." Turning to me, he asked, "you wanna go home with me for awhile, until we can find some place for you?"
"Yes" I nodded. With that, began one of the happiest times of my life, that I still remember and relish today.
Smith lived in a cabin near to his "shop". His real name was Ed Kennard but he was called smith, because he was the town blacksmith. His wife was Evelyn, and their boy, James. When Ed and I went to his cabin, and he told her about the day's events, Evelyn did not appear to like what had prevailed. "What are we going to do with a little heathen? I don't have any clothes that fit her. We don't want an extra mouth to feed."
Ed responded, "We'll just look after her for a few days, until maybe someone will tell the reservation people to come for her, or something."
A few days turned into a few weeks, which turned into a few months. No one from the reservation ever came; they had plenty of Indians, they didn't need anymore. I worked around the house, helping Evelyn. If there wasn't anything for me to do, I would go to the shop and help Ed make horseshoes and other things. My clothes didn't last long, but some women from the church gave Evelyn some old clothes they had left from when their children were younger. Pretty soon, from a distance, so I was told, I looked like a little white girl. Up close, however, my dark eyes and hair were prominent. My English was good, very good. Ed even taught me to read a few simple signs, like "cigars" and "groceries" and "post office", and other things I needed to know.
Whenever mexicanos came to the shop, and they didn't speak English, Ed called for me to interpret, because Spanish was a second language I had acquired as I grew up. The mexicanos always thought I was a Mexican girl, until I told them I was Comanche; they always laughed, disbelieving me.
One day, a dusty young rider came in, needing to put his horse in the stable for the night. Ed was not there, so I was "minding the store". He asked if I were the owner, and I told him "No", that Ed Kennard was, and I worked there, for room and board. A short conversation became a long one. He was an Army scout, in town to meet someone. I was not filled with hatred for the Army people, only for cruel people, that killed the helpless.
He was stationed at Fort McKavett, and told me they were busy trying to wear the Comanches down, and get them on the reservation.
My heart skipped a beat! Perhaps he had seen my people. Even if he were fighting them, he must know where they were, where their villages were. No, if he knew, the soldiers would have attacked them by now. Anyway, he was a connection to "home". I asked him if I could go with him when he went back to the Fort?
He laughed, "Hah! What's a little girl gonna do on a frontier fort? You've been reading too many adventure novels. No, little one, stay here with your parents; it's safer. The Comanches aren't known for their politeness. It's rough country, anyway; not many of the niceties of civilization like you've got here in Lampasas."
"My parents don't live here; I want to go back to my people," I told him.
He looked at me quizzically, "Why are you here? Where do your parents live?"
"I don't have parents, but I have a brother."
"Oh, you're an orphan. Well, anyway, it's just safer here, for you and whoever you live with."
Pleadingly, I spoke, "But these are not my people; I want to be back with my people."
"Are you Mexican? Write a letter to the Mexican consulate in San Antonio, and maybe they can help you get back."
"No, I'm not Mexican, and I'm not white. It's nice, here, but these are not my people, and I've been here long time, enough. I want to go home."
He stared at me before speaking, "Well, what are you if you're not Mexican or white? At any rate, you're just a child," and he snickered.
"I am Comanche."
The scout froze; he stood there, speechless, with his mouth hanging open. "Co- Comanche? You are Comanche?"
While we stood there looking at each other, Ed came from behind the stable. "Everything okay?" he asked.
I told him, "Yes" and that the man was a scout from a frontier fort. Ed took that as an introduction, and he and the scout shook hands and began chatting. "Ed" I spoke out, "he is from Fort McKavett. I want him to take me back with him. Maybe I can find my people again."
Ed looked at me with disappointment on his face, "You want to leave us? Evelyn has really grown fond of you all this time. I have too. Aren't you happy here?"
"Yes, Ed; I'm happy. But someday, I must go back to my people. You know that. We never talked about it, but I must go home again."
Ed invited the scout, named Tom, to eat dinner with us that evening. He took us up on it, arriving about sundown.
We talked far into the evening. It was agreed, most reluctantly, that I could go, if I so chose. Tom would let me ride on his horse with him, when he returned to the fort. Once there, however, I could not draw Army rations, and could be subject to detention and taken directly to a reservation. There was more danger from the whites at Fort McKavett than any place along our projected route of travel. I would get no protection nor special treatment from the Army; I would be treated like any other free-roaming Comanche, which meant, being made prisoner and sent to the reservation. I told Tom that, the last camp we would make before arriving at the Fort, would be the time I would disappear into the woods. I would be on my own, but it was all right; I knew how to survive outdoors; I had not forgotten my Indian ways and woodlore.
The next day, I spent as usual, helping Evelyn in the kitchen, and then working at the stables with Ed. Evelyn asked me if I were going to pack, as Tom was leaving tomorrow.
"What would I pack?" I answered. I only needed some clothes, and a hat. Anything else that they could give me would prove rather useless in the woods. A knife, perhaps, but, shoes wouldn't last long, lace and ribbon would get dirty, food would spoil, and I could resupply myself along the way.
The day came for me to leave. I hugged and kissed Ed and Evelyn and we spoke of our love for one another. We would all miss each other. I promised I would come back, someday, and find them again. We cried as we parted, and I rode with Tom towards the Colorado River, and home.
The first few days were uneventful. We saw a number of white people, who thought I was Tom's little girl. I was anxious to put on buckskin again, but, for now, must be content with the clothing Evelyn had given me.
Eventually, as we moved farther out on the frontier, only an occasional cabin was passed, or a white rider seen. Then, we were alone, as far as we knew.
One morning, as we rode slowly, somewhere near the present town of Menard, suddenly! Indian warriors yelled and charged at us from a clump of woods. They were closing fast, bent on the murderous destruction of us two. Tom tried to bolt away on horseback, and pulled his pistol. I told him to put the firearm back in the holster, and I held the horse in check.
"Are you crazy?!" he yelled, "you're gonna get us killed!"
I was fighting with Tom to control the horse as the young warriors were coming even closer with every second. Then, I yelled at the men in Comanche: "Stop! Stop! I am Comanche!" I yelled it several times before they put their horses in check, and advanced slowly and cautiously. I told Tom again, "Put the pistol away. It's okay; they won't hurt us." He reluctantly complied.
The warriors surrounded us and made menacing gestures. We were halted, and so were they. I said to them in my native language: "What do you want?"
One of them replied, "You say you are of The People, but you dress like whites, and ride with whites. You are a renegade."
I scowled, and shot back, "This white man is taking me back to my people. He is a friend. I wear white man's clothing because I don't have any buckskin to wear. Are you afraid of a little girl? Do Comanche lie?"
The young buck made one more comment: "We are Quahadi; come with us. We will dress you like a Comanche again."
Tom asked me what was happening, and I informed him that we might have to spend the night with the people he had been looking to find. He got very uncomfortable, but there was nothing else to do. Our refusal to come with them could mean our lives. I had to prove to them that I truly was of The People.
We both were prisoners, at least for the time being. So we followed them to their camp. It took about an hour before we came to the site. I jokingly said to Tom, "Well, looks like you found Comanches, all the Comanches you could want."
He gave me a sickening look and said nothing.
As we rode into the camp, the children and women came out and taunted us. One girl, a little older than myself, was running beside us and she said, "I'm going to make you my slave, little girl, and you will have to live with the dogs."
When I bent down and said, "Don't even try; keep your hands off", she was astonished that I could speak their language, not realizing I was of The People.
One old, ugly woman said to us, "I'll feed you to the dogs after I cut you into little pieces, and I'll let the ants have what is left."
I told her, "You're not going to cut anyone, old woman."
They began pulling back as they heard me speak in their tongue. They were not sure what I was.
We rode up to the tipi of the village chief, who came out to see us. He had already been told that the little girl with the white man spoke Comanche.
We sat on the horse, and I spoke to the chief, "We have come a long way. Our horses are tired and we are hungry. We still have many rivers to cross."
The chief replied, "You are of The People? White people do not speak our tongue. Have you been a captive of this man?"
"No, he is a good man, and is helping me return to my village. Your young warriors did not believe me."
The chief told the village that we were to be treated as guests, to take care of our horses, and prepare food for us both.
We dismounted and Tom was led into the chief's tipi. I went to find some buckskin clothing that might fit me. I would be glad to get out of the white man clothing, as it was not tough enough to last long in the outdoors.
When I came back to the chief's tipi, I went in and found Tom sitting uncomfortably in a circle with the chief and some of the older warriors. He seemed relieved when he saw me. I sat down and began interpreting. Most of the questions were for me, however, and not Tom. He was only seen as a traveler that had wandered into their village. The elders wanted to know if the whites had tortured me, forced me to eat their food, and learn their ways. I told them that most whites were good people, and had treated me well. Their food was good; in fact, I really liked oatmeal cookies. I didn't like their clothing; it was easily torn in the bush. I told them that I didn't hate living with the whites at all; I had always been curious about them, and now, plenty of my questions had been answered. But I hadn't seen my own people in more than a year, and it was time to go back.
My answers seem to satisfy them, and they maintained no curiosity about Tom. If he was accompanying me, that was fine with them; they had no interest in making him a captive.
The next day, we resumed our journey. We thanked the village for the food and lodging.
Two more days and nights, and we were within a half day of Fort McKavett. It was time for me to leave. Now, I dismounted, and continued my trip on foot. Tom was worried, but I assured him that all would be well. I wasn't concerned about Comanches capturing me, and if I came across whites, I would be quite at home with them, too.
I walked south, knowing that I would come across the Llano River in a day or two. Then I would turn east, and would be in my homeland again. What had changed? Would I find my people easily? Would they remember me? Many questions weighed on me, and I knew that the answers lay ahead, in the hill country.
When I came to the Llano River, I found it too deep and swift to cross. I would have to go upstream or downstream. Then, downstream it would be, because this also took me in the direction of home.
By late that afternoon, I was coming close to the community of Junction Crossing. There were white people, but I was dressed in Comanche clothing. Well, I would just take my chances. I wasn't really worried.
I came up to a cabin sitting close to the River. "Hello, is anyone home?" I spoke loudly. The door opened slightly. I could just make out a woman peering out at me.
"What do you want?" she said.
"Hello, ma'am. I'm mighty hungry. Could I get something to eat? I don't have any money, but I'll wash the dishes afterwards."
"Who are you? Where do you live?"
At this time, I thought I might have to fib a little. Now, the whites had tried to re-name me, but I always reminded them my name is Nowena. So I told the woman: "I'm Nowena, and I'm trying to get home. I live near Bandera and I've still got a long way to go."
The woman opened the door and stepped outside. She looked at me with distrust. "You're dressed like an Indian."
"Yes, ma'am. Some time ago, they caught me and took me to their village, and that's where I got these clothes. One morning, I just got up and managed to get away and have been trying to get home again." That wasn't too bad, I reflected.
This seemed to reassure her, as she gasped out, "Oh, you poor child. Come on inside. I'll get you something to eat, right away, as much as you want."
We went inside, where two children, a boy and a girl were watching me. I smiled and said "Hello" to them. They stared, fear in their eyes.
The woman had me sit down in a chair at the table and got me some jam and bread. She told the boy, "Charles, go get your father. Tell him we just rescued a little girl from the Indians." The boy peeled off his chair and bolted out the door.
The woman was spoiling me, with an apple and milk, and more jam. I was stuffing myself, not having eaten so well since I left Ed and Evelyn. The little girl never said anything; she just looked at me.
In a few minutes, the boy returned with his father, and several other men. They all rushed in, and stood, staring at me. The woman said, "Just look at how hungry she is. She probably hasn't eaten good food in some time. The poor little thing was trying to walk home, no canteen, no food with her. She's lucky she found us."
One of the men asked me where I had come from. Another wanted to know how far away the Indians were. Someone else wondered who my family might be, or where they owned land. The woman intervened, "Now, fellas, she's tired and needs her rest. You can come over tomorrow and she'll tell you all about it. But for now, we're going to pray and give thanks for her rescue. Then, she'll take a nap."
Actually, I wasn't tired at all. But, I did eat too much, and didn't feel good. So I went and laid down on a bed. I lay there for about an hour, my stomach hurting. The woman was very concerned that I was adjusting coming back into white society. The boy really upset her when he told her I probably had some weird disease, and was dying, and would give it all to them.
In a few minutes, the man came in and looked at me. "Where do you hurt?" he asked.
"My stomach. I ate too much."
With my answer, everyone laughed in relief. I wasn't going to infect them, after all. I was just sick from overeating.
When I couldn't stand the stomach ache any longer, I got up and went outside. "Where are you going?" asked the woman.
I ran a little way into the bushes, and then I upchucked. When that was finished, I sure felt a lot better. The woman followed me outside, then, when that was done, helped me back inside, to the bed.
After some time, I drifted off to sleep. I dreamed of wide fields and rows of berries and plums. The little yellow-haired girl was there, at the far end, picking berries. I was walking towards her, but couldn't seem to get any closer. I ran and ran, but she was still a long way off.
I heard voices, and awoke to see several men standing over me. The man was there, whose cabin I was in, and others, all studiously looking me over. They were talking with each other, asking themselves as to who I might be. I heard the woman say, "I told you not to wake her up."
I sat up, rubbed my eyes, and looked at them, as they looked back at me.
"What's your name, little girl?" one of them asked.
"No, what's your real name, not your Indian name?"
"I told you, that's my name, Nowena."
The woman spoke up again, "She doesn't remember her real name."
One of the men rebutted her, "You told us she was captured just a few months ago. She couldn't have forgetten her name that quickly."
Another man spoke up, "She looks Mexican." Then, to me, "Hablas Espanol?"
"Si, yo hablo."
"See," he said, "I told you, she's Mexican."
"I am not!" I answered him.
From somewhere behind this man, another shot a question: "If you're not Mexican, how come you speak Spanish, and are dressed in injun clothes, and can't remember your name? Huh?"
"My name is Nowena; I haven't forgetten my name. Why don't you leave me alone?"
"No more questions, leave her alone." The woman came to my rescue again.
"Well, she ain't no injun, speakin' English that good," someone remarked, "mebbe she's one of them folks from Looziana."
Finally, all the men left except the woman's husband. He sat down and lit his pipe. "Girl," he said, looking at me, "it don't matter who you are. You want to go home and I'm gonna see that you get there. Tomorrow, we'll load up the buckboard and take a trip to Kerrville; that's just a half day from Bandera. Maybe somebody in Kerrville knows your folks and can help you from there. I need to go get some supplies anyway."
What was I going to do now? I wasn't going to put this family at risk for my sake. The next time we encountered young warriors, they might not be so easily persuaded.
I went and sat at his feet while he smoked. He looked at me several times, and puffed on the pipe. "Whereabouts did the Indians grab you, so we will avoid that area?"
"I think it was somewhere near the San Saba River, north of here, about a year ago, or so."
"My goodness, child. That's a long way from home. What were you doing way up there?"
"We were going to Fort McKavett."
He stopped smoking, removed the pipe, and said, "That's not very far from here. Was the rest of your family captured?"
"Oh, no. My friend and I got away from them, but we became separated, and I headed south."
"Do you still want to get to Fort McKavett?" he asked me.
"I just want to get to my home."
This answer seemed to satisfy him, and he leaned back, closed his eyes, and puffed on the pipe until he fell asleep.
The next morning, I awoke before sunrise. I went outside and caught a rabbit. When I went back to the cabin, the others were up and stoking the fire. I walked inside and proudly showed them my kill: "Here's some breakfast for us."
The man and woman seemed pleased, and she tossed the dressed rabbit in a fry pan. I set the table while the two children just looked at me. We had rabbit, bread, jam, and coffee.
The man told his family that he, a friend named Ned, and myself would be the only ones going to Kerrville. There was safety in numbers but only he and Ned needed supplies right now.
When Ned arrived, we loaded up and set out, hoping to make the James River for first camp. When we got there, we found a cabin nearby, and the family invited us for dinner and to spend the night. This family had two adult males, the woman, and a little girl about my age. We had roast corn, cabrito, beans, and bread for dinner; it was so delicious that I still remember how good it was, even today.
One of the adult males kept looking at me throughout dinner. The men I was traveling with had only told them that I was an orphan, and they were taking me to Kerrville, to help me get home. This adult male that lived there asked me where I had been, that I was wearing Indian clothing.
I told him the story that I had told my previous benefactors. This man asked me my family's name, as he said he knew some people around Bandera.
I said that I didn't have a family, but I had lived with Ed and Evelyn Kennard. He shook his head and replied that he didn't know any family with that name around Bandera. I told him that it had been about a year, and I didn't know what might have changed in the meantime. These answers seemed to satisfy him, although he kept giving me sidelong glances all evening.
The next day, we reached Kerrville about mid-afternoon. Ned and the man got their supplies, and said their good-byes to me. So, I crossed the Guadalupe and headed south, to my former home ground. As I walked along, landmarks began to look familiar: Sweet Plum Hill, Twin Creeks, and Bald Knob. But now, there were white people along the way. Just as one cabin would get out of sight, in a short time, I would see another. A couple of horsemen passed me by, headed to Kerrville, I suppose; they stared as they rode by, but didn't say anything.
That evening, as it began to grow dark, I came upon Verde Creek. This was where it had all begun, so long ago. Now I was 10 years old, but had so many memories already, of a thousand adventures, crammed into my life. I found the place where the soldiers had captured me, and I spent the night there. I didn't sleep well; I was too excited, thinking that I would soon rejoin my people. Maybe I would even find Brown Collar nearby.
I was up early, while it was still dark, looking for plums or berries. When my hunger was sated, I began looking for sign, for an encampment. I searched all that day, and several days more. For now, I avoided white people; they would not want to see a Comanche prowling in the countryside.
To no avail, I could not find any old campsites. Then I realized, with a sickening, panicky, feeling, that my people were not there; I was all alone. They were gone, but were they gone forever? I had never felt so alone in all my life.
The next afternoon, I was sitting on the creek bank, wondering where I might go. I could turn and go back north, over several hundred miles of Texas, until I found the buffalo; my people were going to be near any buffalo. I still wanted to get back to Bandera and the Kennard cabin; they would welcome my return. The latter seemed the best proposition: I would have my white family, and I would be moving northward, where I might find my people again.
By nightfall, I was nearing the outskirts of Center Point. I could try to find a cabin for the night, or sleep in the woods. Somewhat foolishly, I thought I could just walk up to the door of the next cabin I came across, knock, and I would be invited inside to a hot, tasty meal.
When the next cabin on my trip came into view, I walked directly for it. As I got closer, I could hear people inside, talking and laughing. I knocked, and a tall, skinny old man opened the door and looked out at me.
"Hello, sir; could I get some water? I'm awfully thirsty and still have a long way to go tonight."
Skinny looked at me without speaking. A voice in the room said, "Well, what do they want?"
Skinny told the voice, "C'mere and look at this."
Two other men came to the door and looked out at me. Skinny continued, "An injun that speaks English; ain't that somethin'?"
One of the men said, "It's a trick; she's trying to find out how many we are. Joe, git yer rifle and plug her; that'll make those devils come out of hiding!"
I was taken aback, as I did not expect this kind of reception; all the times before I had gone to white peoples' cabins, they were suspicious, but never shot at me.
I could also smell liquor, meaning that these men had been drinking for some time, and, no doubt, had clouded judgement. Unfortunately, they judged me as insincere, and meant to shoot.
One of the men ran to get his rifle as another one that was armed, stepped outside, and cocked the hammer of his firearm. He brought the rifle to his shoulder, and the wicked end of it began searching for me. I bolted for some trees, which were not close at all.
BOOM! He fired, and I heard the ball whistle close to me. The others were yelling loudly, "Injuns! Injuns! Joe, you damn fool, you missed her." Then they began arguing. They were afraid to come after me into the woods, so, for now, I was safe. But there were white peoples' cabins fairly close to one another. In 1874, Bandera was a small, but thriving community, and I was on the edge of town.
I still felt the safest place to be was with whites. So I needed to get to a cabin where they would let me in. However, the alarm had been given, and people began congregating, on foot, and on horseback, all fully armed, to attack the Indians. If my life were not in danger, it would have been ludicrous to think that all this action was in response to the attack on their community by a 10 year old Comanche girl.
The white people searched all night, but didn't find me. Several shots were fired at shadows and other suspicious images. I lay quietly in a berry patch, which was excellent concealment.
In the morning, the cabins were all abuzz with activity. I still elected to try to make it to a friendly cabin; one with children might bring a more sympathetic manner from the owners.
I was walking in a tree line when I heard horses coming from behind me. A voice yelled, "There she is!" I turned and saw several men on horseback; they had spotted me, and were riding hard to catch up to me. I ran as fast as I could for better cover - but there wasn't any, now that they knew where I was. I was running between two oak trees, desperately trying to outrun the horsemen.
Suddenly, a lariat fell over me, it was tugged tight, and my feet went out from under me as I landed hard on the ground. They had lassoed me! I was lying there, trying to get up, but the wrangler's horse kept the line tight.
The men dismounted and surrounded me. "Well, well, what have we here? It's a Indian girl, and a mite dirty and smelly one, too", one of them said.
I was really afraid they were going to hurt me. The only thing I could think to do was to tell them I was Mexican; maybe they spoke Spanish, and would let me go.
However, I never got a chance to speak with them. They bound me tightly with the lariat, and put me across the saddle of an older, grey-haired man. It was hard for me to breathe, and they ignored all my pleas and begging. They took me to the center of Kerrville, near where the library building is today, still tied up, and put me under a big oak tree, for all to come and stare.
"Look at the injun we caught, back up 'ere by Stokes' cabin. She was tryin' to steal food."
"The rest of the raiders got away, but we got her. We'll hold her for ransom, make them savages return some of the white kids they've stole."
I stood there, frustrated more with their stupidity than with my naivete. However, I was thirsty and hungry, and didn't want to be such a spectacle; these whites were acting like they had never seen a redskin before. "You better let me go. My father is Ed Kennard, and he'll be really mad when he gets here, and he's bigger than any one else here, too." Well, it was worth a try.
Some of the crowd laughed at me. "Look at the little savage; she can speak English."
One man, tall, wearing black trousers and vest, and a black hat, stepped out front, and said to me, "Where is your father, so he can explain to us why you are dressed like an Indian?"
I answered, "My father is Ed Kennard, and he has the blacksmith shop in Bandera, and when he gets here, he'll beat you all up."
The man in black replied, "I know Ed Smith; I go to Bandera, a lot, and I always put my horse up in his stable. What building is across the street from his shop? If you're really his daughter, you'll know the answer."
I was really getting angry, now. I shot back, "If you know him, then you ought to know me, too, 'cause I'm always around the shop helping him."
The man in black got more serious: "What building is across the street, little girl? You better give us the right answer, or you're gonna be locked up, if you're lucky."
"I don't know if you mean Abigail's Diner or the store where I always go to get him his cigars. Both of those are across the street. And, next to his shop, on the right, is the freight office for the stage, and we always keep their horses for them."
The crowd looked at the man in black, to see if he was going to accept my answer. They were paused on the edge of doing me violence. He looked deeply at me, then said, "Let her go. That's right, the cigar shop is across the street. I've never seen you before, little girl, but if you say you're his kid, I guess you are."
The grey-haired cowboy came up and undid his rope from me, and said "Gee, I'm sorry, young 'un. Why didn't you say who you was; we thought you was an injun, snooping around."
The man in black walked over and said to me: "We need to tell your pa to come and get you."
At this time, I explained that I had been captured by Comanches for a short time, then I made my way to this area, and was just trying to get something to eat. I wanted to get back to Bandera and home.
The man in black took me to a restaurant and got me something to eat. "I can send a telegram for him to come and get you, if you want?"
"That would be real nice, Mister.....?"
"Walker. Well, yes, sure. Finish your meal and we'll go to the telegraph office." Then Mr Walker bent over, and looked at me real hard, and said, "But if he doesn't have a daughter, at least a missing daughter, then you're in a heap of trouble."
"Well, actually, I'm adopted, but he's still my dad, and, yes, he'll be very happy to hear from me."
"I'm still not entirely convinced; what with your black hair and eyes, and Comanche dress, you must have been captured by the whites and raised as their child."
"Mister Walker, that's a pretty close description of what has happened to me; not quite that simple, but certainly, along that line; I've been captured by these people over here, then captured by those people over there, and pretty soon, I begin to wonder where I belong. I am Comanche but have been living with white people; I am like a daughter to the Kennards; they love me very much. You, no doubt, think I'm filled with hatred, but I'm not. Oh, why can't people learn to get along with each other; we're all pretty much alike, you know. We all eat, sleep, and have religious beliefs and families. You're probably like most white people, that look at the differences between the two cultures, instead of looking at how we are alike - and a lot of Comanche are like that, too. I've been in both worlds, and can't understand why you want to kill each other off. If both sides would just give a little, we could live peacefully in this land."
Most people in the restaurant were staring at us as I gave my spiel to Mr Walker. He responded with: "Look, I'm just a working man; I don't care about killing no one. You don't have to convince me of nuthin'. Hurry and finish your meal; people is looking at us."
The owner, a pretty, but plump woman in her '40's, came to our table and looked at me. "Are you Indian?"
"We don't allow your kind to come in here. You need to leave, now, a'fore all my white customers get upset. Go some-wheres else; we don't serve no one but whites and Mexicans."
Mr Walker apologized to her for my presence, and yanked me away from the table while I was still chewing on my last mouthful of the meal. He hustled me outside, and told me to wait there; he was going to the telegraph office.
While I was sitting on the wooden sidewalk, a little boy came along, saw me, and walked over to me. He started pointing at me, and telling people to "look at the injun!" He made whooping sounds at me, and imitated what he thought was a dance. Then he got close and threatened to scalp me; he said he would hang it from his belt for all to see. He was close enough so that I reached out and punched him in the nose. He was more surprised than hurt, and began bawling, and ran away. The few white people watching burst out in laughter at this escapade. Later, I kind of felt bad about hitting the boy; I should have just got up and walked away. I often wondered over the years if this incident taught him the right kind of lesson or not.
Mr Walker eventually came back and told me that the telegram had been sent, and he was going to the saloon and have a drink while I could wait where I was. When he walked away, I decided I wasn't going to wait on the sidewalk where people walking by kept staring at me. So, I got up and followed some distance behind him. I had never been in a saloon; all I knew was that there was music, people and tables, apparently some type of ceremonial activity where the men sat at tables holding papers in their hands, and they traded these papers now and then.
I walked down the wooden sidewalk, watching Walker to see which door he would go through. I slowly approached the entrance, then got down on my knees and peered through the doorway. There were men sitting at tables, and women walking around, and other men standing up at a really long table. One man was playing a musical instrument - I had never seen a piano before. This ceremony was interesting in that it did not appear to have a definite starting time or finish.
A cowboy was going inside, and he stopped in front of me to tell me to get away from there or he would tie me upside down to a tree and leave me for the buzzards. I got up and walked away, in the general direction of where Walker had left me. I only saw Walker one more time, after this incident, despite the fact that he said he came to Lampasas a lot.
A store that had large windows and white peoples' clothing beckoned me to enter. I stopped outside until I saw some pretty ribbons. Then I went in, making my way to that display. There were two customers, a woman and a young woman, and an older woman that worked there. They all stopped talking when I walked in, still wearing my Comanche dress. Their staring was interrupted when the young woman spoke: "That's that redskin girl they caught this morning. She told them she lived with whites, so they let her go."
The older woman spoke up, "Well, I don't want her in my store. She's probably looking for something to steal. What a nervy little Indian, just walking in here, like she's all high-falutin' and such. One of 'em gets in here, and the next thing you know, the place will be full of 'em."
I glanced sideways at the older woman and told her, "I'm sorry that you feel so much against me without knowing me; it's so much easier to judge someone by their skin color, isn't it?"
Then I turned and walked out.
So far, Kerrville was a pretty unfriendly place to be. Maybe something had arrived from Bandera at the Telegraph Office, so I walked over there.
Nothing yet, so I sat around for about two hours, waiting. Finally, a message came from Ed: "I'm on the way." I was thrilled, and jumped up and down for joy. The telegraph clerk thought I was doing a war dance or some such, until I told him that my daddy was coming to get me and take me home. The clerk cooled me down when he told me that it would take a day to get here from Bandera, using the stage, or buckboard, or horseback.
I realized that I might be here for some time, and I had no money. If Walker didn't want to feed me, I would have to go hunt rabbits and, maybe, fish. Hey, I could go to the stage office and offer to work for a place to sleep! I always helped at the stage office back in Lampasas.
Several passengers were sitting in the waiting area, so I sat outside, as the stage was expected in a short time. In about 20 minutes, the stage arrived from Comfort. When it stopped, I ran out to it, and asked the driver if he wanted fresh horses? He looked around for a second, trying to see who was talking to him. When he realized it was me, he yelled for me to get away from the horses, and he pulled his pistol as he called me a "thievin' injun".
I had been shot at enough, lately, so I just stood there, waiting for him to make the next move. When the stage line wrangler came out, he began checking the horses, to see if any needed changed. I told him that I would help him, but he told me he didn't need any help. "But I always help at the stage office in Bandera, with their horses..."
He growled at me, "I don't want yer help, I don't need yer help, and ain't no damn Injun gonna touch these horses. Now git!"
About that time, Walker came back and asked me what I was up to. I told him all that had happened, and I was afraid that I wasn't going to eat until Ed got there. He soothed me by telling me that he would see that I was fed in exchange for which Ed could take care of his horses next time he was in Bandera.
Walker said he knew someone that might put me up for a couple of days. He was going to their cabin to ask them, and for me to wait there, and not get into any trouble.
In about 20 minutes,- now, remember, I knew how to tell time; Ed had shown me a lot of things already - Walker came back and said "Come with me. This woman I know said she'd put you up until Ed gets here. I wish you weren't in those Indian clothes."
Somehow, I didn't think I needed to ask "Why?"; I had already guessed at the answer. Have you? Yep, the woman didn't want her boarder to be a little Comanche savage.
When we got to the woman's cabin, she and Walker got in a heated argument. She had nothing nice to say about me; Walker told her I was civilized and very polite, and knew how to behave.
"I don't care. Them people act halfway nice, then when you've got your guard down, they steal you blind, and cut your throat. I don't feel safe with one of them things within twenty miles of where I'm standin'."
I looked at the ground, then at Walker. He was trying to persuade her that I could be trusted, to no avail. Finally, I decided to try: "Please, ma'am, I just need a place to sleep at night until my daddy comes for me. I could sleep outside, that would be okay. I just want to get home again; I've never stolen anything 'cause my daddy taught me it was wrong to steal; if you want something, you work and get the money to pay for it. I'm willing to work for you, in exchange for a place for tonight."
Apparently, the woman wasn't told that I spoke English. She looked at me, and spoke, "Where did you learn to speak white talk? On the reservation? 'sides, Walker, she's still a redskin, even if she's tryin' to act white."
I gave it one more try. "Ma'am, I live with white people now; didn't Walker tell you? My daddy is white, and he's coming to get me, as I've been lost for several days. I'm not interested in taking anything of yours. What if you got lost, and some people found you, and didn't trust you, and you were hungry, and just trying to get home."
"Oh, all right!" she finally relented, "come on in; just don't touch anything. Walker, if there's anything missing, tomorrow, I'll expect you to pay me for it."
"Mrs Moore, I don't expect any problems. Everything will be fine. G'night, Nowena; I'll see you in the morning."
"Goodnight, Walker, and thank you," I told him.
Mrs Moore told me that I could sleep on a cot she had in the corner, and if she heard me wandering around at night, she would scream, and a lot of people would come running.
"Mrs Moore, I'm not a Comanche warrior; I'm just a ten year old girl. I'm tired, hungry, and lonely, just like any other girl would be."
She said, "All right, so you say you are. Just don't do anything but lie on the cot, and wait 'til I get up in the mornin' afore you start gittin' up."
"Would you like for me to clean the dining area? I always do for my mom at home."
"I thought you savages ate raw meat with your fingers?"
Patiently, I answered, "I've been living with white people for more than a year. My dad, or 'stepdad' is white. I really don't know what you expect out of me. I'm used to white people; why would I want to do anyone harm? Don't worry."
I sat on the cot while Mrs Moore worked in the kitchen. She didn't take her eyes off me for a second. I saw a book she had, and picked it up, opened it, and sat near to the oil lamp, where I could see. Ed had taught me to read a little, but a book was more than I could handle.
"Put that away. I told you to just sit there, and don't move. I don't want you touchin' nuthin'."
I complied, and went back to the cot. Mrs Moore scowled at me, making me feel more unwelcome than ever. In a few minutes, she brought me a stew in a bowl and sat it on the table. "Come, eat," she said, pointing to the bowl.
"Thank you, Mrs Moore." I sat down and started eating with a spoon. I looked up and she was standing there, looking at me.
"I guess mebbe you really have been livin' with white folks. You sure know how to use that spoon."
When I finished, I went to the kitchen and cleaned the bowl and spoon. I thanked her for the meal, and went back to the cot.
We sat there, glancing at each other, waiting to get sleepy. Finally, she spoke to me: "How come you been livin' with whites?"
I told her my story, and when I realized that she was getting more interested, I put in as much detail as possible. She asked questions about what we did, how we lived daily, what we ate, had I ever seen any white captives? I answered each question in an honest manner. She seemed to disbelieve me when I told her some things; others, she accepted. I realized that she had a lot of innate prejudice against the native Americans.
We talked on into the night. I asked her how she felt about Comanches. That's when she told me that, years earlier, her only child, a little girl, had been outside one morning, and disappeared, and was never seen again. Her husband (she was now a widow) had searched for months, but never found anything out. I felt quite saddened to hear this, and promised her that I would help find out what had happened when I found the Ketsai.
"Lord, child, it's been too many years. I was young then; if she was alive, she'd be twenty-six years old now. I wouldn't know what to do. She'd probably be an injun through and through and couldn't come back to white society. But I do miss her, severely, anyway."
I spent the next two days with Mrs Moore, helping her in the kitchen. She took in laundry to make a living, and so I helped her with that, too. If she ever took a liking to me, I couldn't tell. She got more pleasant to be around, but still never fully trusted me. Every once in awhile, she would flare up at me over something little. If that was her personality or was she seeing me as one of "them", whichever, I just let it pass.
Finally, the day came for me to go home. This young fellow came to the house, and told Mrs Moore that someone, a big guy, was in town, and looking for the Indian girl. I thanked Mrs Moore for her hospitality, and told her I would be back shortly with whatever I owed her.
"Oh, go on, girl. It's okay. You've been a big help. Just go, now, and don't worry about a thing."
So I walked swiftly for the center of town. In a few minutes, I saw Ed standing on the sidewalk, talking with Walker. "Daddy!" I yelled, and bolted for the big arms of my stepdad.
He swept me up and we hugged and kissed. "Oh, Daddy; I've missed you so much. I'm going to go home with you and never go away again; and I'll help Evelyn in the kitchen, and cook every other day so she can get some rest, and I'll even look after James' horse for him."
Ed smiled with joy, and tears came to his eyes. He hugged me again, and then he said, "Mr Walker, here, tells me that you had quite a time of it, almost got shot, and almost got sent to the reservation..."
"Yes, that's making short work of several days of being on the run and hiding. Walker was nice to me, though. Oh, yes, and I want to get something for Mrs Moore; she looked after me for several days until you got here."
We went into the same store that I had left abruptly a few days earlier when looking at ribbon. We bought some pretty ribbons for Mrs Moore, and Walker said he would give them to her. The surly woman was still working there, but said nothing to or about me this time.
Ed needed to get back to Bandera, so we left immediately. I sat beside him, and waved 'good-bye' to Walker as we headed back home. I never saw Walker or Mrs Moore again. Years later, when I met someone from Kerrville, I asked about them; Walker had been shot to death in a barroom dispute, and Mrs Moore had passed away.
We can go back to old places but not old times.